[Reading Room] A Medieval Romance by Mark Twain

I failed utterly to see the ending coming…

Oh, this one made me laugh.

Not just for the unexpected ending, but for the constant, very modern thoughts that crowded my head as I was reading it.

Basically, this is the story of a ruthless old king who, not having any sons, has his daughter raised as a boy, then sends her to assume his brother’s throne (after the ruthless old king has ruined the good name of his brother’s only heir).

It’s a knotty, Shakespearean set up and I was so consumed with thoughts of the delightful ways a modern writer could treat the topic, that I failed utterly to see the ending coming. In fact, I’ll bet nobody saw that ending coming. It’s not done often.

Basically,

[SPOILER ALERT]

Twain refuses to give the story a proper ending, saying it’s too hard! (Highlight these lines to see the spoiler)

[END SPOILER]

This story is unsophisticated. You don’t get the impression Twain ever had any angst over his storytelling/writing. He just spun tales the way he would if he were telling it to you at a cocktail party, relying on his natural style and exuberance to paper over any cracks. As a result, I read the story with the voice-of-my-critique-group clucking its collective tongue and crossing out words here and there.

But who cares? It’s a story. And it entertained me. Especially the ending.

And it made me think: what if someone else was to end the story?

(In fact, in searching for this story I found a collection of similar stories, all with sequels that have been written to complete the original puzzle).

It just goes to show: you don’t have to be conventional when it comes to short fiction! 😉

Would you retell this story today? How would you end it?